Look Out

One cool winter afternoon, an attractive young Jewish woman enjoyed her new bungalow in southwest Minneapolis. She’d finally moved back home, after a decade in New York City. She’d come to realize that life is much too hard in a place like Manhattan or Brooklyn. In New York, you cannot live like an adult—with a car, a garage, a yard, room to raise a family, a balance between work and play, office and park. What had taken her so long to see that? She had finally relented to family pressure; she came back home to raise her daughter.

She was relieved. Still, she could not help feeling a little anxious. Minneapolis can feel like a village when you fly in from La Guardia, when you glance down at our quaint little skyscrapers surrounded by lakes and farms and subdivisions and sleepy streets and leafless trees and dead grass. One of the things she worried about was how best to parent her child, whose biological father was an African-American donor, in a supposedly lily-white city like Minneapolis. Back in New York, her white friends were in the minority, and she moved freely among classes and cultures. If New York is a city full of terminal adolescents, at least they are adolescents who must share their space with many people who don’t look like themselves. New Yorkers know a lot about getting along with people who don’t necessarily share your experiences or opinions or language.

Her family dismissed her worries. The Twin Cities may be less diverse than New York, but we are progressives, after all. Here, we take a lot of pride in our liberal bearing, our inclusive values, our strong sense of equality and justice. Besides, we are an incredibly diverse city these days. There are more than eighty languages spoken in Twin Cities public schools, and minorities now make up almost thirty percent of the metropolitan population. If we aren’t as integrated as we might wish to be, well, it will come with time. How many black friends do you have? Does that make you a bad person?

She was lucky to find a house to buy right away. Even if the real estate market here seemed genteel by New York standards, the price for her first home was breathtaking. But it was a charming little place, with a big yard and a garage. It was situated in a neighborhood where, fifteen years ago, a lot of the homes would have had bars over the windows. Today, her street is on the trailing edge of gentrification. With pressure from Linden Hills and Kingfield and Tangletown, it was fast becoming unaffordable for a single mother. Politically, she felt right at home: In December, the street was still trimmed with stubborn Kerry-Edwards signs up and down the block.

She was eager to tell her friends back in New York, to brag about making her escape to adulthood, to have them visit and see how good life could be out here in flyover country. She was eager to prove that she was not running away from the city so much as running toward a saner life.

One friend came within weeks, a sturdy African-American man originally from South Carolina. Though he’d lived in New York most of his adult life, he was still staggered by the Minnesota cold. He stepped outside to admire his friend’s new house; he wandered through the backyard that seemed to him like an acre of luxurious grass under the afternoon sun. He looked in the windows of the double-car garage, and he assessed the freshly painted siding. He was also amazed that the sun would not be climbing any higher nor getting any hotter. Shivering, he went back inside to express his real-estate envy, the way only a New Yorker can.

A moment later, there was a loud knock on the front door. It was a Minneapolis police officer. He said a neighbor had called. Report of a suspicious-looking man lurking around the house. Seeing the man, the woman, and the child sitting on the floor among unpacked boxes and suitcases, the police officer turned an intense shade of red. He apologized profusely and backed out of the little house. “I am so sorry,” he said.

It’s nice to have neighbors looking out for you. Isn’t it?